These are the type of activities that hone your child’s pincer gripe so that they can hold a pencil properly and also help with hand and eye coordination.
Recent research on kindergarten fine motor skills and executive function. Had findings indicating that both fine motor skills and executive function, measured at kindergarten entry predicted growth in math and reading achievement through middle school after controlling for gender, socioeconomic status, and early math and reading skills.
These associations were positive, such that starting kindergarten with better fine motor skills or executive function ratings was related to steeper rates of growth in both math and reading.
Maria Montessori was well before her time, putting together activities that had more than one function, for example, she designed cylinder puzzles that have small knobs on the top. The primary purpose of the activity is to become aware of the size and depth of the cylinders but the secondary purpose is to strengthen the pincer muscles.
Working on fine motor skills is also important for building concentration. It will become apparent when your child has the need to practice their fine motor skills, one week they will be bouncing around unable to sit still for more than 30 seconds next thing you know, poking small items into small holes can keep them quiet for half an hour.
Fine motor skills are an important part of childhood development and should be encouraged. But what are they and why is it important?
The Four Areas Of Motor Skills Development
This is the development of gross motor skills including the upper arm, forearm and shoulder. The child needs to control these as well as their fingers.
- Large painting and drawing at easels
- Using equipment such as rakes, brooms and shovels
- Bouncing and throwing a ball
- Climbing – anything that uses upper body strength
- Anything that involves pushing, pulling and large arm movements
Developing hand muscles is important for grasping actions and finger movements. This development can be seen even in babies as they learn to grasp different shaped objects and transfer objects from hand to hand and hand to mouth.
- Spooning activities
- Using a spray bottle to water plants/paint
- Playdoh, rolling the playdoh, using a cutter etc.
- Pouring activities, moving water from one object to another
This is using the thumb, index and middle finger to coordinate and move objects, this is also the tripod grip used when holding a pencil for writing.
Activities include for pincer:
- Using tweezers and tongs to transfer small objects
- Threading beads onto a lace
- Building blocks including Lego
- Making small objects with Playdoh
Now, you don’t need to rush out and buy expensive equipment, there are plenty of activities that you can set up at home and now that you know that many of Montessori’s original activities have fine motor skills as a secondary function you will start to see things in a different light…
You can use the same activities all the time, just increase the difficulty by making the objects smaller or by using pincers or other tools. Make sure you bookmark or pin this page so you can come back and reference it often!
Some of these activities use small pieces if your child is still mouthing, then use with caution and never leave a small child unsupervised if they are using small objects.
Disclosure: The following activities include affiliate links which means I make a small commission, at no cost to you, if you decide to buy something.
Sorting small objects such as beads, dried beans or buttons – Easy to set up, choose objects that can be sorted by shape, size or colour and place them in a bowl and then provide a tray or smaller bowls to sort them into.
Matching nuts and bolts – Raid the shed and see how many different-sized nuts and bolts you can find. Place the nuts in one bowl and the bolts in the other and show your child how to find the matching set then when they are all matched, arrange them in size.
Posting small objects such as pipe cleaners into a bottle – Pipes cleaners or straws, posted into the neck of a PET bottle
Pipet or water dropper – use this to create art with or to transfer water from one bowl to another.
Pouring from one container to another – small jugs work well for this (scour your local charity/op shops) as your child gets better at this you will notice the way that they grip the handle of the jug changes.
Threading beads – You can get some great chunky wooden beads these days, you could make some cards for your child to follow as their pincer grip gets stronger you can change this up and start using small beads like the ones for making necklaces.
Hanging out laundry – using clothes pegs is quite a skill! Get your child to help you with the laundry or set up an activity where they hang up their doll’s clothes with clothes pegs.
Balancing marbles onto golf tees – Use a polystyrene block and show your child how to push the gold tees into the block. Then ask them to balance marbles onto the tees, not as easy as it sounds. Up the ante by getting them to use pincers to lift the marbles!
Buckle and unbuckling and buttoning skills – anything where the child is practising buckling up or fastening buttons, zips, hooks and eyes. The Montessori dressing frames are a great fine motor skills activity but dressing dolls and teddy bears is a good substitute.
Putting coins into a money box – Kids love listening to the noise it makes too. For younger kids, you can get them posting things into a cereal box.
Matching padlocks and keys – collect a selection of locks and their keys together, keys in one bowl and locks in another. Challenge your child to find the correct key for each lock. My nephew had an uncanny knack for getting this right just by looking at the locks!
Using building blocks – any kind of block build is great. Lego is perfect and although Duplo is advised for smaller kids, I have seen plenty of toddlers work wonders with regular Lego
Board games that use small pieces – any board game that uses small pieces work for this, even if your child can’t actually play, lots of fun can be had. My son would play with the scrabble board before he could spell etc. My top recommendation for extra pincer training is Operation, and a fantastic game which works well for mixed ages/abilities is Bananagrams.
Transferring objects from one bowl to another, first with fingers then with pincers. Beans, beads, buttons, rice, the smaller the object the harder it gets!
Matching colours – using coloured clothes pegs and coloured cards, the child matches the card and peg by attaching the peg to the coloured card.
Picking up mini pom-poms – You need some mini pom-poms in a bowl, tweezers and an ice-cube tray. Show the child how to pick up the pom-pom with the tweezers and place it in the ice-cube tray. I always bought mixed-sized bags like this one, not only can you use it for this type of activity but there are all types of crafts to be done with pom-poms too!
Spooning – Another one that is easy to increase the difficulty by changing what you set out. Use two bowls, one with the beans/rice/marbles/pom-poms and a spoon. Move the objects from one bowl to the other.
Peeling fruit – anything in fact that needs peeling, satsumas are perfect, nuts, bananas, grapes (if you are Japanese!)
Using lacing cards – There are loads of store-bought types out there or make your own. If you are making your own lace, put tape around the end to make it easier to thread, trying to thread with a frayed lace is extremely annoying.
Sewing – younger kids can use a plastic needle, yarn and burlap. For older kids, sewing buttons onto felt is a great way to start and make their own simple softies out of felt.
Counting – activities which use small objects as counters. You don’t need anything special to do this, coins, buttons, Lego pieces, acorns after a walk, sticks…
Using scissors – just cutting to start with then cutting on the line, shapes etc. My son loved THIS BOOK from Kumon. There are also activities included in the free resource library.
Matching coloured paper clips – to coloured dots on a card. This is similar to the pegs but more difficult.
Pin punching – follow an outline and punch all the way around using a push pin. Or like we did HERE make astronomy books, punching the star constellations.
Picking seeds out of a fruit or vegetable such as pumpkin works as a sensory activity too! More sensory activities in this post.
Playdoh – not only keeps them quiet for a long time it is also working those little muscles. Making peas or beans or eyes, anything that involves rolling the playdoh between the thumb and fingers is good. My go-to Playdoh recipe is HERE
Popping bubble wrap – who doesn’t love doing this! It does need to be between two fingers to be working the right muscles.
Learning to tie laces – a skill many kids don’t have before they start school these days. My son’s yochien (kindy) has a clever workaround as many kids here don’t have laced shoes. The kid’s bento (lunchbox) bag had to have laces so the kids practised every lunchtime when they got out their bento. By the end of the first term, my son had mastered it.
Playing an instrument – Piano, recorder, guitar, and violin are just a few great instruments for working those pincer muscles.
Arranging flowers in a vase – is another one that is also a sensory activity. A small vase or glass, even a jam jar and a few flowers from the garden or your nature walk is a great activity.
Finger painting or fingerprinting – messy, yes but great for getting those little fingers active. Making fingerprint paintings is a lot of fun, the Ed Emberley books are brilliant if you need a bit of inspiration.
Making sculptures with marshmallows and toothpicks – good fun, a great activity to do with friends but only if eating the project isn’t going to spoil dinner! Get a bag of mini marshmallows and some toothpicks the see who can build a house, a car, a tower…
Glueing seeds and beans to make a mosaic or picture – I vividly remember doing this when I was at school! Glue, seeds and a card are all you need!
Ripping – smaller kids just like ripping paper, maybe it’s the sound? Older kids you can rip up an old magazine to make pictures & collages. This is a good sensory activity, you can find more of these here.
Playing bingo – using counters instead of marking a cross on the paper. This is great because you can reuse the bingo cards over and over again!
Sorting M&M’s into colours (& putting them in your mouth!) Would work for skittles or similar sweets too.
Finger puppet play – this can be a great project to do, making finger puppets and then playing with them. Finger puppets were one of the things I always had in my bag when we left the house, there are endless ways to divert a child’s attention when stuck on a train or at the bank if you have a finger puppet or two handy.
Stacking objects – again, the small the objects the more difficult it becomes. coins, cards, blocks etc.
Playing tiddlywinks – an oldie but a goodie, in fact, many of the simple old games are great for pincer muscles, pick-up sticks, Chinese Chequers…
Typing – is a skill all kids should have these days and if you have an old typewriter this is a lot of fun.
Elastic bands (or hair bobbles) onto different-sized objects. A bag of elastic bands can bring a lot of fun. Try putting them over bottles or a can. On door handles is another good one.
Fastening safety pins onto cloth – this one is for kids that are a bit older, it’s not easy! If you have any nappy/diaper pins, they are good to start with, then work your way down to smaller safety pins.
Using a stapler or hole punch – kids LOVE using stationery items, give them a stack of old paper and a punch or stapler and they will come up with their own game. Did you know that most hole punches punch holes that are just the right size for Lego so now you can add paper to your Lego building fun!
Sharpening pencils – this one is actually really good for the writing movement too!
Sticking pipe cleaners into colander holes – grab your kitchen colander and some pipe cleaners and create a masterpiece of modern art sculpture.
Weaving – I had a little kitchen shelf with was like a wire rack, attach a ribbon at one end with clothes peg and then weave the ribbon through the rack. Any other kind of weaving would work too as would loom bands (hands up, who still have 5 million of them in the cupboard?)
Hammering nails – Into wood is the norm but you can do it into a pumpkin if it is the right time of year, for an alternative. Marking where to hammer the nails rather than just random nail bashing will make it a bit harder. You can do it as a wall art project like THIS
Knobbled puzzles – Montessori puzzles always come with the little knob handles for the puzzle pieces, this is the way she designed them. But there are plenty of other knobbled puzzles on the market.
And of course, using a crayon, pencil, or paintbrush to create art. Any use of a writing implement is good, there are ergonomic crayons available to help the child learn how to hold the pencil correctly. We always liked the Rock Crayons.
Does your child or children have a favourite fine motor skill at the moment, let me know what it is in the comments section.
If you liked this post, you will love my book Montessori Inspired Activities For Pre-Schoolers, available in kindle and paperback from Amazon and all good bookstores.
(Carlson 2013), Abby G., Ph.D.,Kindergarten fine motor skills and executive function: Two non-academic predictors of academic achievement GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY